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Celebration to honor veterans at new World War II memorial

Bricks honor World War II veterans in downtown Wichita’s Veterans Memorial Park. The memorial will be commemorated on Memorial Day weekend.
Bricks honor World War II veterans in downtown Wichita’s Veterans Memorial Park. The memorial will be commemorated on Memorial Day weekend. The Wichita Eagle

A World War II memorial featuring 1,500 commemorative bricks of World War II area veterans has been completed and will be celebrated on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

The event will be at 3 p.m. May 28 at 339 Veterans Parkway, along the Arkansas River near downtown.

The celebration will include World War II-era music, a Color Guard, wreath placement and a flyover by a World War II Stearman airplane.

Three paveways with the commemorative bricks mark veterans’ names, branches of service, theaters of operation and dates of service. There is a nearby directory with each name and brick location that’s been installed to help visitors locate the bricks with their loved ones’ names, according to Molly McMillin, the vice president of the board of directors of World War II Memorial Inc., a nonprofit organization formed to support the project.

When the Operation Kilroy project – so named after the famous drawing of a bald man poking his long nose over a wall – began nearly six years ago, board members were hoping to sell 500 bricks. They sold that many within a month. As word spread, more and more family members wanted to put veterans’ names on the memorial. The nonprofit group that oversaw the memorial used the brick revenue – each brick was purchased for $100 – for upkeep of the memorial.

The project was started by Phil Blake, a World War II veteran and unofficial caretaker of Wichita’s war memorials for nearly two decades until his death in 2014.

Blake helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve Wichita’s monuments for all wars and veterans. Among the projects he led were the restoration efforts for the Spanish-American War Memorial in Riverside Park, the Bicentennial Memorial Flag Pavilion and other memorials.

Blake also helped restore the Double V Memorial in McAdams Park and lobbied city officials to change the name of the street that runs by Veterans Memorial Park to Veterans Parkway.

The World War II memorial has two 6-foot-tall, 8-inch-thick granite panels.

“Every brick celebrates an important individual history and has a deeply personal connection to each family,” Ted Ayres, president of the board of directors of World War II Memorial Inc., said in a release.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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